There is a debate going on about the approach to delimitations. The debate is significant because there is speculation that petitions about the legitimacy of delimitations will be used to extend the tenure of an interim government.
Taking informal view of census and statistics, we can try to present arguments in general terms. First, we have to separate the issue of completing census and performing delimitation. The new law allows provisional data to be used for delimitation. Future concerns on certified census should not have any legal basis to question the legitimacy of elections. I am not suggesting they are not linked but that last two elections were held without a census that was due in 2008. We have a history of elections without credible census data and 2018 elections will be no different.
Parliament is trying to pressure ECP but it is the mandate and authority of ECP to perform delimitation. This authority is derived from Election Bill 2017 which was passed by the parliament itself. Politicians and parties have a vested interest in demarking constituencies in a manner that benefits them so they can be hardly considered neutral. Civic organizations like FAFEN, PILDAT, NDI, Pakistan Visionary Forum, and others should take a lead role in making suggestions to improve delimitation.
The most important aspect of delimitation is the principle adopted to go about it. ECP has used district as the administrative unit of delimitation and population rather than votes as the basis of constituency boundary. FAFEN in its report has suggested that 1/3 of these new constituencies violate the principle that difference in population between them should not be greater than 10%. But FAFEN has used the whole country as the basis rather than a district as used by ECP. I would like FAFEN to tell us whether 10% rule is violated if district level analysis is done.
Our districts are of varying populations so one alternative could be that Province should be used as a unit of delimitation. Even then 10% rule may not be upheld countrywide because our provinces have wide variations in populations. I personally prefer that district should be the unit of delimitation.
Another principle suggested by PPP and MQM is that delimitation should be done on the basis of registered voters. To me, it seems a reasonable suggestion but then other parties have claimed that voters list are not credible and people are shifted to benefit certain political parties. Delimitation based on population considers family as a basic unit while voters list will consider an individual as a basic unit. I prefer family unit over an individual.
It is important that everyone accept the mandate of ECP to complete delimitation if we want elections to happen on time. This is not the last election. We can continue improving the system for future elections. Supreme Court should keep in mind that using suo motu powers or entertaining frivolous petitions to find a constitutional basis to delay elections will further undermine their credibility. It will raise questions that once again the doctrine of necessity is revived to empower undemocratic forces for a martial law through other means. Despite all its limitations and shortcomings continuation of democracy through a timely and peaceful transfer of power is the only way forward if we want this nation to progress. We need to cure our 10 years itch.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi